There were finally some signs yesterday that Caribbean Airlines may have cleared up the backlog of passengers who were left stranded on the island following the rush to get back to Trinidad following the long Easter weekend.
Chaos had reigned at the ANR Robinson Airport following the Easter weekend as hundreds of passengers travelling on the domestic route complained of having to wait long hours for flights back to Trinidad.
The situation was worsened as a result of CAL having to cater for ferry passengers as well due to the suspension of the inter-island ferry service by the Port Authority of T&T due to the unavailability of the T&T Express and T&T Spirit.
CAL organised a lease arrangement with LIAT to pick up the slack, but this did not seem to make a difference over the Easter weekend—one of the busiest times of the year for Tobago.
Irate people who faced long waits either as confirmed or standby passengers took to traditional and social media to voice their grievances.
By Tuesday morning even prominent citizens were using social media to highlight the situation.
Former advisor to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Nafessa Mohammed, reported: “The airbridge has really collapsed.”
Mohammed explained the frustration she and other passengers were facing since Tuesday as they had been forced to wait at the airport to secure seats on a flight. She also described the long wait in the CAL ticketing line to change their tickets or get their names on a list so they could travel to Trinidad, being told at midnight there were no more flights and having to return yesterday to face the process all over again.
“Why can’t arrangements be made to send a jet to clean up the pile-up?” Mohammed’s post read.
By 10 am a CAL jet arrived and took most the stranded passengers.
Other passengers, like Nalini Roopnarine from Sangre Grande, who was with a group of 15 people back at the airport yesterday morning, chose to return to their guest houses or hotels rather than wait.
Roopnarine told Tobago Today they were tired and hoped to return later yesterday evening to try to board a flight to Trinidad.
When Tobago Today visited the airport on Wednesday, many passengers, including the elderly and children, were seen lying on the ground as they waited for the chance to leave Tobago. Some passengers admitted they were waiting for as long as 24 hours for a flight, while others ventured to the airport as early as 3 am, some three hours before the scheduled opening time of the counters.
CAL’s head of Corporate Communications Dionne Ligoure says CAL is doing its best to facilitate the travelling public on the Tobago end of the airbridge.
She said the problems being experienced on the airbridge were not down to “inefficiency as stated by many people. It’s sheer logistics and available resources.”
“PTSC buses show up with hundreds of ferry people and we have a small space and four counters, so that crowding situation is expected in Tobago even if people are in a line,” she told Tobago Today.
Ligoure said analysis of the overall situation which occurred must include whether the ferry passengers who attempted to secure flights were booked to travel on the day they showed up at the airport, followed the required process with PATT officials and were prepared to wait to get on board a flight.
“It’s also a symptom of impatience with the process, as everyone wants to show up and leave right away. LIAT’s plane only carries 68 passengers,” she said.
Noting that the airline business is “highly regulated,” she said the process of checking passengers must be followed “to the letter.”
“A plane ticket is an auditable document... and we have to dot our I’s and cross our t’s,” she said, adding that if the correct process is not followed CAL will be “in plenty trouble.”
She asked passengers to “exercise patience, as CAL will move all passengers between the two islands.”
Her statements came even as CAL released statistics earlier the week showing there was excess seating capacity over the Easter weekend.
A CAL release showed that between March 29 and April 2, it had carried 16,583 passengers on 283 flights. However, it said 20,964 seats were made available during the period.